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May, 2008

Busiest Spring Fire Season in 45 Years Ends

The 25,691 acres that burned in just the first four months of 2008 total more than what burned during an entire year for each of the past 45 years. According to Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) data, not since 1963 – when 44,823 acres burned that entire year – have more acres burned in Virginia.

“This was definitely a spring for the record books,” said John Miller, VDOF's director of resource protection. “And there are a lot of people around the state who hope that we never see a record like this again.”

Of the 948 wildland fires that have occurred since the first of this year, 360 happened in one day (Feb. 10, 2008). A trifecta of high temperatures, low humidity and gale-force winds resulted in more fires and mores burned acres (16,000) in a single day than the Agency has ever experienced in a 24-hour period in its 94-year history.

“Most of our 200 full-time firefighters responded to multiple fires on February 10th,” Miller said. “With the help of our part-timers and a lot of volunteer, municipal and county firefighters, most of the fires were suppressed that same day.”

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine declared a state of emergency February 10th and activated the Virginia National Guard. The soldiers were trained by VDOF firefighters and helped with fire suppression efforts in Bedford and Roanoke counties during the week of February 11 - 16.

VDOF Firefighter Burned Battling 822-acre Fire

Image of burned cab on fireplow. Fighting wildland fires is extremely dangerous, and the men and women who work for the VDOF risk their lives everyday to ensure the safety and well being of Virginia's citizens. One VDOF firefighter was severely burned April 19th when a wall of flames shot through the open cab of a fireplow he was operating while trying to suppress a 822-acre fire in a pine plantation in Buckingham County. The 20-year veteran received second- and third-degree burns and had to be airlifted to UVa Hospital for treatment. He spent more than a week in the intensive care unit and will require a series of skin grafts.

State Forester Carl Garrison said, “He was in the initial attack phase of the suppression effort plowing a line around the fire when the wind suddenly shifted and pushed the flames right through the cab. Thankfully, he survived, but the road to recovery will be a long one. We hope all Virginians keep him in their thoughts and prayers.”

The cause of the fire in Buckingham County is still under investigation.

Two State Forests Added

Picture of the Great Channels rock formation.

The VDOF has created two new state forests, one on the Middle Peninsula and one in Southwest Virginia. The combined acreage of these forests brings Virginia’s state forest total to 55,142 acres.

Dragon Run State Forest is a 1,811-acre property in King and Queen County.The forest borders a major tributary to the Dragon Swamp, which feeds into the Piankatank River and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.

State Forester Carl Garrison said, “The Dragon Run State Forest enhances VDOF’s ability to demonstrate to the public the scientific application of sound forest management practices while protecting nearby sensitive wetland areas. Once it is developed for public recreational pursuits, Dragon Run State Forest will include opportunities for hunting, hiking and horseback riding, as well as sites for wildlife viewing.”

The VDOF acquired the property from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) utilizing federal funding through the USDA Forest Legacy program. Funding for the property was approved in 2003 and 2004 with the support of Sen. John Warner, former Sen. George Allen, as well as Rep. Jim Moran, and the late Rep. Jo Ann Davis.

The lowland areas of Virginia’s 18th State Forest contain forested swamps that are protected under an open-space easement with Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The upland areas of the property had been managed for growing southern yellow pine pulpwood and saw-timber. Buffers along the waterways will protect the waters of the Dragon Swamp – one of the most significant forested areas in the Chesapeake Bay Lowlands Eco-region.

VDOF’s other new acquisition, the Channels State Forest, is the first in the far southwest portion of the state. A formal dedication will take place Friday, May 9th. The 4,836-acre property will be an actively managed forest that will also offer passive recreational opportunities for the citizens of the Commonwealth and protect a unique rock outcropping known as The Great Channels of Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Forestry purchased the property from The Nature Conservancy, which bought the land to conserve its contiguous forest and rare natural resources, both of which were threatened with fragmentation and development. Funding for VDOF’s acquisition was provided directly by the Virginia General Assembly and through grants from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation -- staffed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR.).

State Forester Carl Garrison said, “The region’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly championed the purchase of this magnificent property, which gets us closer to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s goal of conserving 400,000 acres of land in Virginia by 2010.”

Long-known regionally as Brumley Mountain, the new state forest is part of the Clinch Mountain Range and spans the counties of Washington and Russell. The property is comprised, predominantly, of mixed-hardwood forests on moderate to steep slopes.

For the first time in Virginia’s State Forest system history, a portion of the forest has been designated as a Virginia Natural Area Preserve. The 720-acre preserve encompasses the 400-million-year-old Great Channels of Virginia and will be jointly managed by DCR’s Natural Heritage Program and VDOF.

Emerald Ash Borer - Help Assess the Threat to Virginia's Street Trees

Virginia Tech and Virginia Department of Forestry are partnering to assess the potential impact of Emerald Ash Borer on Virginia's urban street trees. To do so, Virginia Tech urban forestry researchers will begin compiling existing tree inventory data and conducting new street tree sample inventories to assess the abundance, composition, and value of native ash species in Virginia's urban forest. The data will be analyzed using i-Tree's STRATUM modeling software.

How can you help? You can become a partner with Virginia Tech to conduct a sample street tree inventory in your municipality during the summer months. This partnership is a great opportunity to have a street tree inventory performed in your community at little or no cost. Or, if you already have tree inventory data from your municipality, you can contribute this information to the project.

If interested, please contact Dr. Eric Wiseman by May 9.